Yesterday was Arbor Day. But it rained all day. Plus it was Friday so the first of two Grand Island celebrations took place today at the Western New York Welcome Center, when more people could attend.
Arbor Day is a holiday that was started in 1872 by a guy named J. Sterling Morton. He had a claim to fame for several reasons, which included establishing Arbor Day, as well as being the father of Joy Sterling Morton, who founded the Morton Salt Company.
J. Sterling Morton moved from New York State with his new wife, Carrie, to Nebraska on their wedding day. There, he observed that there was lots of prairie but… no trees! He discovered that much prairie grass because he purchased 160 acres worth of it in Nebraska City, where he became editor of the local newspaper, the Nebraska City News. He held a number of political offices, including acting governor of Nebraska from 1858 until 1859.
Sterling Morton was fascinated by trees and he planted apple trees and other tree species. In fact, he was so fascinated by trees that, for a while, he gave up politics to devote himself to trees and agriculture. But, because he had all of that political experience, he was able to get a resolution establishing arbor day through the Nebraska state board of agriculture. The first Arbor Day, apparently, was very successful. The estimate is that more than a million trees were planted in Nebraska on that day.
Taking care of trees was a family tradition. Joy Sterling Morton established an arboretum on 178 acres next to his estate in Lisle, Illinois. Today, that arboretum occupies 1,700 acres.
Arbor Day became a national holiday in the United States in the 1970s. It is set for the fourth Friday in April, although some southern states do their tree plantings earlier in the season.
Here and now in the Town of Grand Island, New York, Arbor Day has taken on even more significance in the wake of the emerald ash borer crisis. The tiny invasive insect has caused incredible damage, killing the majority of ash trees. Many trees are dead or dying. They have become brittle hazards and they have to be taken down. They will have to be replaced. Grand Island will have to be re-treed, preferably with a diversity of tree species.
Today, people went home from the event with small trees to plant in their own yards. Planting baby trees is a start in replacing the many trees lost to the emerald ash borer. It is a good start. But let’s go big. Why not imitate the example of the first Arbor Day and plant a million trees?